How tall was Robert Lowth?

In the spring of the year 1772, James Boswell called upon Robert Lowth, and, as he wrote in his journal, found him to be "a neat, judicious little man in his conversation with me" (ed. Wimsatt and Pottle 1960:112). But what does "little" mean in this context? Does this mean that Lowth was not very tall? Boswell himself, according to the entry in the ODNB, "stood about five foot six inches tall" which is not very tall either by our standards today. 

One clue may be found in Lowth’s letters, particularly those that are part of his correspondence with Gloster Ridley, with whom he was joint executor of the state of Joseph Spence. Among the articles to be divided, there was a cane "with a Pebble Head", one, Lowth wrote, which had been "given him by Mr. Pope, whose Name, I believe, is upon it: pray preserve this as a Relick". Evidently upon a query from Ridley, Lowth replied: "I mentioned the cane with no other design, but to prevent its being disposed of inadvertently … No body has a better claim to in in all respects: it will exactly fit You. Mr. Rolle is too tall’; & if you will but allow me to be taller than you, your right will be indisputable". Pope, according to the entry on him in Wikipedia, was a small man: due to an illness contracted in childhood, "he never grew beyond 1.37 metres (4 feet 6 inches) tall".

Lowth, then, being taller than Pope but smaller than Boswell, must have measured something in the range of 4 foot 6 to 5 foot 6, perhaps 5 feet or thereabouts. His wife must have been smaller than him still, for in a letter to her he jokingly commented on a report on the growth of their baby daughter: "I suppose you have put here into the same quart pot that you stood in upright with the lid shut down. If she will but make as proper & as good a little woman I shall be quite satisfy’d".

If this picture is anything to go by, Johnson wasn’t very tall either.

{ Leave a Reply ? }

Leave a Reply